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Exploring Family History by Phone

Family trees are a perfect vehicle for this type of activity, mysterious and engaging, and people love talking about their lives

‐ Project Volunteer

Collage with pictures of people in the phone and old images of families and houses

About the Project

When the third lockdown began in January 2021 the Participation Team immediately started looking for ways that we could support local people who were at an increased risk of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection from their communities. Online video-based activities are great for those who are digitally able, but we also wanted to find ways to reach people who did not have access or the ability to use digital technology. We decided to set up a family history activity using the telephone.

A team of volunteers were recruited to support participants to take part and learn more about their family history. Through regular chats and research using, volunteers were able to start to put together participant’s family trees and provide valuable companionship.


The Volunteering Experience

Following the end of the project the volunteers came back together to share their experience from the sessions.

They discussed how the project helped open their eyes to what someone who was isolated looked like, one volunteer said “my participant did not fit the profile of someone who was isolated. She was not living alone and was very chatty. I learned that isn’t the only way to be isolated. Her husband was quite deaf and having medical treatment. You can live with someone and still need that contact’’.

The group also spoke about how the project affect them individually. One of the volunteers who had recently had a bereavement and lived alone spoke about how volunteering had helped him tremendously during a difficult time. Another volunteer found taking part helped rebuild her confidence lost during lockdown. “Not being able to go out and talk to people makes you lose confidence in starting and holding a conversation, taking part helped me build my confidence’’.

When asked if they enjoyed taking part one volunteer said “It was such a joyful thing to do if you like stories. The idea of helping someone who did not have the internet was very appealing.” Another volunteer added,  I’m writing my dissertation and my work has always revolved around family archives as a vehicle for identity creation, this project was lovely interlude between the two, a different and personal way to engage with archives and people’’.

We ended our conversation asking the volunteers if they felt that family history was a valuable activity for people experiencing loneliness. The group all agreed that family history was a great way to connect with others, one volunteer said,  “family trees are a perfect vehicle for this type of activity, mysterious and engaging, and people love talking about their lives”.


Looking Forward

We have found that family history can be used successfully as a tool to connect people with their heritage and community. We want to continue to utilise this project to reach digitally excluded people who are at an increased risk of isolation and loneliness within Leicestershire. We are now conducting an evaluation with the aim to gain further funding to expand Family History by Phone.

Since volunteering for Family History by Phone, one volunteer has participated in another Culture Leicestershire project and two volunteers have started to volunteer with Leicestershire County Council taking part in museum and library community projects. We want to thank all the volunteers who took part and made a difference to local people’s lives.